The title character in Come Back to Earth, Esther! is often admonished for having her head in the clouds. Though she is an “ordinary girl” who loves jumping rope and chocolate spread, her heart belongs to the cosmos – she dreams of the day she can walk on the moon.
With a focus on science and creativity, the book takes readers into Esther’s imagination, which is fuelled by her curiosity about space and filled with multi-limbed alien creatures and undiscovered galaxies. In a quest to fulfill her dream, Esther uses arts and crafts to build a spaceship, collecting materials over the course of a few days. Using a hammer and nails, glue, and items amassed from forages in the recycling bin and nearby forest, the vehicle takes shape in her bedroom workshop, culminating in a liftoff that sends our young wannabe astronaut into an orbit “more beautiful than Esther had imagined.”
Come Back to Earth, Esther! is Quebec illustrator Josée Bisaillon’s first outing as an author, and she has as much fun with her text as her illustrations. (The book was originally published in French in 2018 and here Bisaillon provides her own translation.) The language is just sophisticated enough to offer a challenge to advanced young readers (“Esther invents worlds populated by extraterrestrial creatures, colourful galaxies, a confetti of shooting stars, and lush planets”) but also lulls with gentle poetry (“The spaceship takes off, high in the sky, leaving behind a dusty cloud as it reaches for the stars”).
The largely muted palette of Bisaillon’s cut-paper and ink illustrations evoke the moodiness of the night sky, but unexpected pops of vibrant colour prevent the scenes from becoming drab. Bisaillon’s work has earned her several awards and nominations (including a 2017 Marilyn Baillie Picture Book Award for the gorgeous The Snow Knows by Jennifer McGrath), and the level of intricacy here is exceptional: the detail in spreads showcasing Esther’s imaginings (including a Jon Klassen–esque underwater scene) are full of fun visuals and lovely washes of saturated colour. But even these are eclipsed by Esther’s bedroom, with its parquet floor, patterned curtains, and scattered belongings.
Whether kids are space-obsessed or not, they will likely identify with Esther’s singular focus and desire to create and build. With its beguiling illustrations and inviting text, Come Back to Earth, Esther! is a great addition to the growing canon of STEM-focused picture books featuring female protagonists.